Picture waking up at the crack of dawn, watering, tending to, picking vegetables from and generally occupying yourself with the soil from which a carefully arranged and planned array of food gradually begins to grow over the course of the spring and summer. Imagine this goes on, with the beautiful backdrop of Antigonish County’s rolling forested hills in the background the entire time.
If this sounds appealing, this opportunity exists with the Bethany Apprenticeship Garden.
The Bethany Apprenticeship Garden is a combination of an opportunity for self-employment and learning in Antigonish.
The program started in 2013, a collaboration between the Sisters of St. Martha and Nova Scotia farmers, David and Jenn Greenberg, meant to educate people in the basics of small farming.
David Greenberg said the program was part of ministry associated with youth and the environment, serving as an incubator program for potential farmers.
“The sisters wanted to focus their efforts towards ecology and environment – stuff like that,” Greenberg said. “They hired my wife and I, who are farmers, to be program mentors.”
Greenberg and his wife are well-suited for their role, being full-time farmers.
“We provide education when we work with new growers who want to get good at small-scale farming, and who want experience in operation,” Greenberg said. “There are a lot of opportunities to work as a farmer.”
The program allows people to figure out, without having to make big investments, whether farming is right for them.
Although they are there to help, Greenberg said he and his wife do very little dictation, because once the basics are in place, the program is largely self-directed
“We’re there to help, but we’re not going to tell them what to do all day,” he added. “It’s about learning by doing and being your own boss.”
During the first few months of the program, participants plan out what they wish to do when the weather warms up. Then, when spring arrives, planting and the bulk of the work begin.
“I come up once a week, or every other week, and once the session gets going, I come up a little less frequently,” Greenberg said, noting that participants begin to take over at that point, running their own operations near Mount Cameron.
Greenberg said he and his wife educate participants about crop rotation, going over the many important details, big and small, of how to run a farm.
Once they are versed in what to do, participants set their own objectives, and run their own business. By that point, Greenberg said participants are usually quite self-sufficient, and “in their stride.”
“By mid-to-late July, people usually get to the point where they’re relishing their independence more than needing help constantly, but we come up when needed,” he said.
That self-sufficiency, Greenberg noted, is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a small farmer.
“Much of what is exciting about being a small farmer is having agency and creativity, meeting challenges with your own wits and efforts,” Greenberg said. “For some people, working for someone else on a farm might not engage them as much as doing it on their own.”
The fruits – and vegetables – of the labour of those in the Bethany Apprenticeship Garden can be found at the local farmer’s market, and at numerous other businesses around town. That’s because participants don’t only grow food in the program, Greenberg noted – they sell it as well.
“They learn how to do marketing, making calls and selling what they grow, as well,” Greenberg said.
During the average day as a part of the Bethany Apprenticeship Garden, Greenberg noted, “there’s a bit of everything.”
“There’s planting, harvesting, weeding – that kind of thing. Everything to run a little business,” Greenberg said.
He noted the types of crops that are grown as part of the Bethany Apprenticeship Garden are usually salad crops, including lettuce, spinach, various types of tomatoes, beets, cabbage, chard, kale, cucumbers and herbs.
“It’s a good way to get experience and see if you like farming, before you go and invest in a bunch of land and equipment,” Greenberg said.
For many, that experience has been a positive one. Most of the alumni of the Bethany Apprenticeship Garden have gone on to start homesteads and farms in the Antigonish and Cape Breton areas.
“One of the first participants is farming down the road and has been doing it for a number of years,” Greenberg said. “People come here and say, ‘I can’t believe how much I learned,’ and they get hooked.”
The area where the program takes place is protected with deer fencing, and participants have access to raised beds and greenhouses.
The Bethany Apprenticeship Garden starts with a crop-planning retreat in late February and early March.
Greenberg said interviews for the program are underway. For more information, or to request to join, contact Dave or Jenn Greenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 902 757-1640.